SAKS’ RETURNED CHECK: Saks Fifth Avenue has taken a p.r. swing back at Winona Ryder, whose legal team has been wrangling in court to auction the star’s hot clothes to benefit charity. Saks wants to see the clothes destroyed and made a point on Monday to make a donation inthe amount of Ryder’s court-ordered restitution — $6,355.40 — to City of Hope, a children’s organization where Ryder also served some of her community service. (Ryder has paid Saks, but the retailer has not yet cashed the check because of the ongoing argument in court.)

"We believe that auctioning the merchandise would glamorize the crime, thereby sending the wrong message to children," said a Saks spokesman. Plus, the clothes were already damaged when Ryder ripped the security tags off.

NEW DIRECTION FOR PILOT: The Children’s Place is said to be talking to Ken Pilot, former J. Crew ceo and former president of Gap brand, to put the sparkle back into the merchandising after a rough 2002, according to a source. "He’s well suited for The Children’s Place, considering his experience running major specialty chains. When he ran Gap, he also had GapKids," as well as BabyGap and Gap International.

Though sources said no deal has been signed, Pilot could be named president, serving as chief merchant, filling a big vacancy and reporting to Ezra Dabah, chairman and ceo of the chain, which has about 650 stores. "It’s our policy not to comment on rumors," said Heather Anthony, director of investor relations for The Children’s Place. Pilot was trying to turn around J. Crew when ex-Gap ceo Mickey Drexler took his place earlier this year. The Children’s Place is another turnaround project. Last year, comparable-store sales decreased 16 percent and net earnings were $8.9 million, compared with $46.6 million the year before.

SPRING CLEANING: French retail and luxury mogul François Pinault will unload a handful of important art works next month in New York at Christie’s, the auction house he owns. They include a seminal Degas bronze, and paintings by Mark Rothko and Yves Klein. But a spokeswoman for the billionaire said the sale is not about money. "He’s refereeing his collection in preparation of the opening of the foundation. There’s nothing unusual about Mr. Pinault selling art works and buying others. He doesn’t need money." To wit: She said Pinault recently acquired a collection of Rothkos from Rachel Mellon that had been on display at the National Gallery in Washington. "The foundation’s collection will begin postwar." Pinault, one of Europe’s preeminent collectors of modern and contemporary Art, tapped architect Tadao Ando two years ago to build a museum to showcase his collection. Construction is expected to begin some time next year, with a public opening before 2007. Meantime, Pinault-Printemps-Redoute, the distribution giant Pinault controls, has been doing its own house cleaning, selling its business-to-business divisions in favor of its higher-margin retail and luxury activities. PPR controls 61 percent of Italy’s Gucci Group.BOURDIN IN BLOOM, ONCE AGAIN: The late Guy Bourdin, who arrived on the fashion scene in the Seventies, made his mark as one of the industry’s most radical photographers. Three decades later, he’s making waves again with a retrospective opening this week at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. The exhibition, "Guy Bourdin," is part of a French photography and video season called "Made in Paris: Photo/Video."

"The last 30 years of image making is inconceivable without Guy Bourdin," said Charlotte Cotton, curator of the show. "His approach to fashion photography was radical — each prop, color, gesture and angle of light was highly charged with meaning," she said. The exhibition features Bourdin’s images for Italian, British and French Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Issey Miyake, Charles Jourdan and Gianfranco Ferré — as well as his private unpublished archive. These appear alongside his documentary-style "cinefilms," which were shot on location at his fashion shoots.

BRITAIN DEFECTS TO ITALIAN STYLE: In a deal brokered by the British soccer star and fashion plate David Beckham — and certain to ruffle more than a few feathers in Britain’s men’s wear industry — the English national football team has signed a deal to wear clothes designed by Giorgio Armani, a spokeswoman for the Italian designer confirmed Monday. A spokesman for the Football Association, which manages England’s national soccer team, declined to comment. Under what was said to be a three-year deal, Beckham and his 25 teammates will receive two outfits annually, consisting of a formal suit, tie, shirt, shoes, belt, watch and sunglasses. The players will also receive a more casual Armani outfit, and Armani luggage. The Beckham jacket, inspired by Armani’s body-hugging sweaters and originally made for Beckham, will also be included in the English team’s new wardrobe.

The clothes and accessories apparently will be worth more than $5,000 a player, but Armani will provide them gratis. This is believed to be the first time that England’s official national team outfits have not been provided by a British company. Most recently, the supplier was Burton and prior to this, it was British designer Paul Smith.

CHOCOLATE LOVE: Is chocolate better than men? Renée Zellweger thinks so, at least in her new movie "Down with Love" in which she plays a gossip columnist who has sworn off love and is espousing such advice. Today, she will be on hand to give her own opinion on the matter when she and co-star Ewan McGregor open the "Down With Love" boutique and windows at Bloomingdale’s flagship here. The in-store shop features items from firms including Anne Klein, Laundry, Carolee and Lulu Guinness, as well as chocolates from Ethel M and makeup from Stila, which has created a special collection to tie in with the film.TO THE MAX: It’s been ages since Maxim’s topped the fashion agenda as the place to see and be seen. But could a renaissance be in the making? The Pierre Cardin-owned eatery has been elected the best restaurant in Europe in a survey of readers of the European edition of Condé Nast Traveler. Cardin will accept the magazine’s so-called Reader’s Choice Award in a ceremony today at the Hotel de Russie in Rome. Maxim’s will also get an article in the book’s May issue.

HOW SWEDE IT IS: Fashion types visiting the Palais de Tokyo Contemporary Art museum in Paris might be surprised to see Lars Nilsson on the schedule for a solo show bowing May 6 entitled "Game is Over." But you might call it, ahem, a false a-Lars. "It’s another Lars," Nilsson the fashion designer said Monday. "But I know a little bit about this artist’s work." But Nilsson, who just joined Nina Ricci as creative director after a rocky stint at Bill Blass, had to laugh at the other Swede’s choice of title. "The game is not over," he said. "The game is only starting."

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